Support Local Communities When Traveling Globally

Plan a more authentic and impactful vacation by supporting local communities.

| May 2018

  • Families wanting something other than the standard two-week Hawaiian vacation have many options for helping kids become global citizens while engaging with local residents, particularly around climate impacts.
    Photo by Unsplash/Sylwia Bartyzel
  • Mary DeMocker is the author of The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution as well as cofounder and creative director of’s Eugene, Oregon, chapter.
    Photo courtesy New World Library
  • In "The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution,"DeMocker lays out a lively, empowering, and doable blueprint for engaging families in the urgent endeavor of climate revolution.
    Cover courtesy New World Library

The Parent’s Guide to Climate Revolution  by Mary DeMocker shows parents how to do their part for the climate revolution. She encourages readers to stop stupid environmental decisions and start taking smart actions to better the environment. This section shares why DeMocker’s family decided to support local communities during their vacations, and why your family should as well.

"Leave only bubbles." — Coral Reef Alliance

We’ve taken our children abroad twice in two decades. The first time, in 2002, was an all-inclusive vacation package generously gifted by relatives who didn’t anticipate its colonial air. The walls enclosing the beach resort spanned the beach all the way to the water to keep locals out of the all-you-can-eat-and-drink, 24/7 beach party, and the dark-skinned Dominicans who babysat, taught aerobics, and served us poolside piña coladas were referred to by the resort as our “Chocolate Friends.” (No, I’m not kidding.) 

Years later, when we wanted our kids to hone their Spanish-speaking skills and begin cultivating a global perspective, we traveled down the Yucatán Peninsula through Belize and into Guatemala. That time, we avoided all-inclusive resorts in favor of smaller inns, and that helped us connect to people more easily, including to a nurse who invited us to visit the medical clinic she ran with volunteers in rural Guatemala. That day’s visit ignited Zannie’s desire to develop her Spanish skills and more deeply understand other cultures; she works now to support immigrant and refugee students in the US school system.

Families wanting something other than the standard two-week Hawaiian vacation have many options for helping kids become global citizens while engaging with local residents, particularly around climate impacts.

To start with, choose locally owned inns, restaurants, and transportation services instead of all-inclusive packages at big-box resorts, which mostly profit foreign investors. Or use a service like Airbnb, HomeAway, FlipKey, or VRBO to plan an immersive social experience, especially if your family shares space with a host.

For an active vacation that plunges kids into local nature and culture, try bicycling tours with kids — yes, even in other countries. Mother-of-three Kirstie Pelling writes on her Family Adventure Project website, “Many people think you have to wait until the teenage years before trying something as ambitious as a multiday bike tour, but believe me, nothing is further from the truth. We’ve toured long distance with kids since they were babies.”

To learn more about how global warming impacts residents in a particular region — especially the low-lying island nations that are popular vacation destinations — research before going, and then ask about local residents’ experiences. Are they affected by drought, wildfires, floods, landslides, deforestation, seawater rise, habitat loss, or coral reef bleaching? Ask your waitress how her family weathers intensifying storms, or a doctor how the northward expansion of disease affects children she treats. Ask the grocery clerk, if you buy bottled water, what locals drink. Is it safe from contamination? Seawater encroachment? Talk to guides, bus drivers, museum directors. Befriend people. Really listen to responses. Ask how to help.

Dedicating even one afternoon to the real concerns of local residents — whether by learning about their environmental struggles or volunteering time to plant trees, restore coral reefs, or even just pick up trash — can forge authentic connections. It can also deepen children’s understanding of their privilege and the effects of their actions and lifestyle choices — and of the impacts of their government’s policies — on the families they meet.

If you want to...

  • Have an active family adventure: Peruse the Family Adventure Project’s countless ideas for educational, active vacations with kids, including bike tours. (Caveat: They work with advertisers, so product endorsements are embedded in some posts.)
  • Experience coral reefs: Learn and practice coral reef etiquette at Coral Reef Alliance’s website.
  • Try service-minded travel: Find reputable local nonprofit organizations to support by visiting the Grassroots Volunteering database run by Shannon O’Donnell, author of The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook. Her Volunteer Opportunities database helps travelers find ethical and sustainable service-minded projects. Her Social Enterprises database helps travelers find, patronize, or donate to local businesses worldwide that have an underlying social mission, such as protecting the planet or empowering local communities (or both).

More from The Parent’s Guide to Climate Revolution:

Excerpted from the book The Parent’s Guide to Climate Revolution. Copyright ©2018 by Mary DeMocker. Printed with permission from New World Library —

Mary DeMocker is the author of The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution as well as cofounder and creative director of’s Eugene, Oregon, chapter. She has written about conscious parenting and climate activism for the Sun, EcoWatch,, Spirituality & Health, Oregon Quarterly, and the Oregonian. She lives with her family in Eugene, Oregon. Find out more about her work at



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